My buddy is afraid of heights, but he often tags along with me when I go mountain climbing; he's trying to get rid of his paunch. Hiking with a friend builds a synergy between the love of companionship and the love of nature, which make the adventures enjoyable in spite of fears, occasional slips and trips, and running into cacti.
For my friend, reaching a top is a great achievement as he's overcoming a fear each time he does it. For me, reaching a top is a realization of a goal, but this achievement is not the sole enjoyment of the experience, the actual hiking is its own reward. As I walk over rocks or cling and climb up giant boulders, I realize several things within the rugged beauty of Nature. With a vigilant eye, we sometimes see a fossil of some prehistoric sea animal evidencing the fact that Southern Nevada had once been under water. We keep a lookout for meteorites too as they are valuable chunks of metal from the dark vastness of the universe. However, mostly we see broken bottles, paper wrappers, and lead from spent bullets from the 1980s when people would shoot guns here (illegal now). The litter detracts from the enjoyment of the outdoors as it evidences some untidy person walked before us and the mystery of discovery is lessened. Perhaps, a hundred years from now, that litter I find annoying now will be as entertaining to some future hiker as the fossils are to me.
Along with what is visible, I remain cognizant of other things in my hike. I realize I have my life in my own hands. I realize I must watch out for my friend who is not as experienced a climber and has an innate fear of heights. I realize that I am breathing fresh air and working otherwise neglected muscles and helping my health. I realize that there are snakes and other little critters whose homes may well be in the very crags and crannies I place my fingers in and bet my life on. They can and will defend their spaces against us huge invaders. I remember once, on another hike when I was a kid, my brother sat on a rock to tie his shoes and heard a rattlesnake under it. We often name a hill for an experience, so, we came to call that hill Rattlesnake Mountain. Rattlers are nice animals, they warn you before they attack unlike some people (I've been sucker-punched once in my life, that was enough). From that particular snake, I learned that a safe place, like a sturdy rock, may not be safe because of what may lurk beneath.
The actual climbing is its own reward. But reaching the peak and being able to look down at where we came up, to see a 360 degree panorama, as in the case of Frenchman Mountain which
lies supine like a French man across the East side of the Vegas Valley, and to see the great blue man-made Lake Mead on one side contrasting to its desert environment and a sea of buildings and lights on the other side called Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Henderson, and County is a kind of grandeur hard to express in words.
It is disconcerting to think of the millions of people going about their business below me in the soupy pollution that hangs in a thick layer over them but under me. From my vantage, even during the dismal thoughts of our ability to damage nature and our own health, I cannot help but be impressed by our ingenuity, our drive to find ways to strive in inhospitable climates...a man made lake on one side of a large fault upheaval feeding a million of us on the other side. It's incredible.
Imagine all the ditch-diggers, construction workers, planners, surveyors and tax money that had to come together over time to make that mess. Not to mention the numerous other talents who maintain and manage it. And, at the basis of all this civilization, that which makes neighbors tolerate neighbors, keep cops and lawyers busy, and give criminals something to break--is the law.
My buddy is hungry, so we start climbing down. Going down a mountain is more dangerous than going up because the eyes are further from the feet and it's harder to see footholds. Plus, there's a tendency to want to go with gravity and run down slopes, which can twist an ankle or send someone over an edge. Like climbing, when descending, you may start in one direction, but depending on the contours of the mountain and your ability, you may take easier longer paths or harder shorter ones. It doesn't matter as both will get you to your destination, but one may be more fraught with risks.
Sometimes the exhilaration is worth the risk though, and caution is thrown to the wind. We see a rockslide on a nice steep slope, and, tying my well-worn shoes tighter, I prepare to rock ski two hundred feet to the edge of a cliff where the slide cuts short. My friend, much more hand-eye coordinated than I am is not quite as sure-footed and slides down on his rear and heels. I think he'll need new pants after this.
What do they say? Life is all down hill from here? It sure is! It's a crucial part of the adventure. One would think I'd be tired after a rigorous hike, but the rush of accomplishment can keep a person going all day. Just as when I finish anything I'm proud of or have invested time and energy in, the satisfaction of a job well done is rewarding, but recognition from others for it helps to make that feeling last far longer than it would if I alone knew what I did. I like the thought that others may remember my exploits after I forget or cease upon this planet. Life is, after all, a short ride on a rock hurtling through space. Vladimir Nabokov once said that our “existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” May as well have a good time, and
I wonder sometimes about people who work thirty years in a job before retiring or being laid off and then die soon after from a broken spirit and a loss of self-worth. Retirement from one kind of work need not be retirement from all work. I suppose the same could be said of graduation from school. Life does not have to be one large hill which almost ends and becomes useless after reaching the top but rather a number of hills and valleys. The momentum of the descent from one mountain can carry us part of the way up the next.